Mika Ninagawa-designed Shibuya Chikamichi Lounge now open underneath Shibuya Station as rest stop for underground stylish shoppers

Written by: William on July 29, 2014 at 9:43 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

Shibuya is like a hydra. Just when you think you have it sussed, along comes yet another shopping arcade or mall to confuse you.

Earlier this year Tokyu opened the Shibuya Chikamichi Lounge underneath Shibuya Station. The space is a bit hard to define (information portal? rest stop?), though we think it’s pretty typical of the kind of consumer spaces you often find in Japan. After all, in Shibuya Center Gai there is also the Blue Windy Lounge “smoking room” sponsored by a tobacco company, and other stations around the city feature special spaces for women to get massages and beauty treatment.

Shibuya Chikamichi (“underground street”) Lounge has toilets and baby room facilities but it’s more than just an amenity. It has a women-only “powder room” and a men-only “dressing room” (this is Shibuya, the men like to look their best too), though be warned the wifi in the main lounge is “fake wifi”, i.e. only a booster for certain domestic network providers.

shibuya chikamichi lounge tokyu space station underground

Okay, so Tokyu lost a point there but make up for it in the lounge’s friendly and pop interior vibe. Perhaps the only thing it’s “missing” is an actual cafe or coffee bar, though there’s no shortage of those in Shibuya, of course.

Tokyu says this is the first station facility of its kind but we also like how the functionality has not taken precedence over how the place looks. The powder room features designs by photographer and film director Mika Ninagawa and the men’s room is also suitably snazzy and colorful.

shibuya chikamichi lounge tokyu space station underground

Overseas visitors may also be interested to learn that in the lounge, among the desks and sofas for relaxing is a concierge who speaks English and can help out lost tourists trying to navigate the subterranean maze of Shibuya. (Officially he or she will be there to give out information about Shibuya trains.)

shibuya chikamichi lounge tokyu space station underground

Open 10:00-20:00, Shibuya Chikamichi Lounge is located between the underground shopping plaza in Shibuya and Shibuya 109, and is free to use.

shibuya chikamichi lounge tokyu space station underground

Tokyu is on a mission to transform Shibuya, a program of powerhouse developments it launched with the Shibuya Hikarie building it opened in 2012 (so posh it even has its own Swarovski-designed Lawson convenience store) and then its merger of the old above-ground Toyoko Line with the underground Fukutoshin Line last year. Several others are on the way. By 2027 it plans a further five large buildings. Shibuya will evolve further for train passengers when the JR Station also puts both Yamanote Lines onto one island platform and moves the notoriously distant Saikyo Line to a more accessible location. This is all going to be part of a new 46-storey station building with offices and shops. After all, if there’s one thing Shibuya lacks, it’s new construction work. Oh, wait…

shibuya chikamichi lounge tokyu space station underground

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JR West traditional crafts tourist train gets decorated with Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen kimono dyeing design

Written by: William on July 10, 2014 at 10:56 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

JR West has announced a special new tourism train that will run between Kanazawa and Wakura hot spring in 2015.

Kanazawa, known as a “mini Kyoto”, is the main city in Ishikawa Prefecture, which sticks out on the west coast of Japan in the Hokuriku region. The prefecture is famed for its sushi, kimono dyeing, lacquerware, gold leaf, and other traditional crafts. Along with Kanazawa, another major center for the arts is Wajima, a small city located further along the Noto peninsular.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

Not surprisingly then, the new JR West train’s interior and exterior is inspired by the wa and bi (Japanese beauty) of Wajima lacquer and Kaga Yuzen, a local kimono silk fabric dyeing technique (Kaga was the old samurai domain when the Maeda clan ruled Ishikawa before the Meiji Restoration).

The crafts train starts running in October 2015. It has capacity for 52 passengers in two carriages, including private cabins. The carriages are differently designed, either with Wajima lacquer or Kaga Yuzen themes. It will run for around 150 days a year on weekends and holidays.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

JR often creates special trains for sightseeing lines. Along with Japanese prefectures’ penchant for yuru-kyara mascots, it is one of the most successful tactics for luring local tourists. They go as much for the experience of the transportation — whether it be kitsch or luxury — as to visit the place itself. JR West also recently teamed up with Sanrio to create a Hello Kitty locomotive for Wakayama Prefecture.

jr west wakura onsen kanazawa tourism sightseeing train lacquerware wajima kaga yuzen crafts traditional design

Kanazawa is anticipating a huge boost to its already fairly large tourism industry when the extension of the Shinkansen bullet train from Nagano to Kanazawa opens in spring 2015. While Kansai sightseers can take the Thunderbird express from Osaka to Kanazawa, until now Kanto folk had no equivalent and usually change in Niigata to the slower coastal train that passes down through Niigata, Toyama to Ishikawa. With the Shinkansen, they will be able to take one express from Tokyo straight to Kanazawa.

[Via Nippon.com]

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Goodsmile Racing’s new Hatsune Miku GT racing bikes are awesome

Written by: William on June 25, 2014 at 9:19 am | In CULTURE, PRODUCT INNOVATION | No Comments

Following the 2013 bikes and other merchandise, HRM Goodsmile Racing Bike Project has created three new snazzy Hatsune Miku racing bikes.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

The Racing Miku Hatsune Miku GT comes in three models: HRM-Extreme (for racing), HMR-9 (high performance model for hills and slopes), and HRM-x (the fashionista’s choice).

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

The bikes are only made to order and come with eye-watering price tags. The HRM-Extreme comes in at ¥580,000 ($5,700) plus tax, while the HRM-9 and HRM-x are more reasonable ¥198,000 ($2,000) and ¥138,000 ($1,300) plus tax respectively.

Made using super lightweight esrMagnesia metal alloy, the bikes also include many components produced by top bike parts maker Shimano.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

Goodsmile Racing has been competing in Japan’s famous Super GT car race in Vocaloid idol-themed vehicles for several years now.

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

Now they are holding the GSR Cup Cycle Race on September 6th at the New Tokyo Circuit. Look out for Hatsune Miku bikes galore!

goodsmile racing gsr hatsune miku gt race bike hrm x

And if Hatsune Miku isn’t quite to your taste or if you can’t get enough of cute anime girls, you can also get Love Plus cycling jerseys and water bottles, based on the popular SIM dating game.

love plus bike water bottle

love-plus-bike-jersey

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JR West creates Hello Kitty train for Wakayama tourism this autumn

Written by: William on June 18, 2014 at 9:03 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

Japan Rail knows how to attract customers. In between rolling out snazzy new bullet trains and other technological advances, it periodically customizes JR Yamanote Line trains to look like a chocolate product or a manga and anime franchise.

From September, a special Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running on JR lines as part of its Wakayama Destination Campaign. The sightseeing train will be an express with all seats reserved.

hello kitty train wakayama tourism campaign

JR has consulted with locals and got advice about the sightseeing spots to include on the design. The prefecture is famed for the sacred sites and pilgrimage routes in the Kii Mountain Range, a UNESCO World Heritage site for ten years now. Southern Wakayama is also home to Taiji, one of the (controversial) centers of Japanese traditional coastal whaling and dolphin hunting, and its Whale Museum is on of the tourist destinations featured on the train, along with a uniformed Hello Kitty.

The interior of the train will also be painted with characters but the design has yet to be announced.

hello kitty train wakayama tourism campaign

Although JR West is trying to push how it has worked hard to find a design that shows off the locality of the region, we have yet to find a tangible reason for the choice of Hello Kitty other than her apparently universal popularity (after all, Kitty-chan is not even Japanese, she is meant to be British). Perhaps someone can enlighten us? Sanrio, never afraid to license out its character to all and sundry, must be happy with the extra coffers, though.

The Hello Kitty Wakayama Train will be running for 33 days on weekends and holidays from September 13th to December 14th, 2014.

Wakayama must have a thing for felines and locomotives. The fortunes of the small Kishigawa Line were famously reversed by the promotion of Tama the cat to station master.

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Ex-AKB48 Mariko Shinoda gets own Peach airplane

Written by: William on October 28, 2013 at 11:35 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 3 Comments

Can’t get enough of your favorite (ex-)AKB48 starlet? Now you can a take a flight “inside” her vessel.

Okay, enough with the puerile references, though AKB48 is hardly a stranger to dubious not-so-subtle sexual overtones.

mariko shinoda akb48 peach airplane jet plane cabin attendant

Local LCC Peach Aviation launched its first Narita route yesterday with flights now taking passengers from Osaka to Tokyo for less than ¥4,000 one-way. To celebrate, they got former AKB princess Mariko Shinoda to help them promote the service and even specially decorated a whole aircraft in her likeness!

mariko shinoda akb48 peach airplane jet plane cabin attendant

The Airbus A320-200 — aka the “Mariko jet” — looked about as glitzy and cutesy as you can get, while Mariko no doubt made a lot of fantasies come true by dressing up as a cabin attendant for the occasion.

According to the official press release, for what it’s worth, Mariko apparently designed the uniform and plane herself!

mariko shinoda akb48 peach airplane jet plane cabin attendant

mariko shinoda akb48 peach airplane jet plane cabin attendant

She then saw off the first passengers from the terminal gate with a radiant smile and a high-five for everyone, before boarding and flying on the plane (her plane?) herself.

mariko shinoda akb48 peach airplane jet plane cabin attendant

We can only imagine what it must feel like to have an entire airplane painted in your own Big-Brother-Is-Watching-You-like size portrait.

mariko shinoda akb48 peach airplane jet plane cabin attendant

Now a whopping 27 years old — positively ancient by idol standards — Shinoda’s popularity amongst AKB48 fans appears to show no signs of flagging, despite her age forcing her to make that venture out into the post-AKB desert. Apparently the sky’s the limit! Or is it rather that her career is up in the air? After, Peach is no ANA or JAL.

mariko shinoda akb48 peach airplane jet plane cabin attendant

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Typhoon Wipha, biggest in ten years, hits Tokyo

Written by: William on October 17, 2013 at 8:12 am | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

It was the largest typhoon to hit Tokyo in ten years and, as expected, yesterday morning brought havoc to the city.

The once-in-a-decade storm, Typhoon Wipha, was even worse in the Izu peninsular, where dozens are missing and nearly 20 dead.

While all eyes were initially on Fukushima and how the nuclear power plants would cope with the rainfall, the downpour and high winds caused chaos for transport in Tokyo, and hundreds of flights and bullet trains were cancelled.

In Tokyo, one woman died after falling into a river.

To get a sense of what it was like trying to go to work as normal on a typhoon-hit Wednesday, take a look at the watery images that Japan’s internet users have been sharing.

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

typhoon wipha hit tokyo big storm ten years decade

[Source: Matome Naver]

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Get married on the JR Yamanote Train Line in Tokyo!

Written by: William on June 20, 2013 at 12:31 am | In CULTURE | No Comments

It’s the most famous train line in Tokyo. The JR Yamanote Line defines the geography of the city, encircling the center, running a loop around the notorious “empty void” in the heart — the Imperial Palace.

It links the old Shitamachi area in the northeast right through the financial powerhouse district around Tokyo Station, down to new developments like Shinagawa and then back up through major fukutoshin new centers like Ebisu, Shibuya, Shinjuku and Ikebukuro. And its fleet of 200-meter-long trains carries millions of passengers every year along the 34.5km of track, more than some entire subway networks in major cities around the world.

jr yamanote line wedding tokyo train

Formerly called the Yamate Line until 1971 (you can sometimes still spot signs for this in the older stations), it is comprised of 29 stations, most of which also connect to other lines. (A new one is on the way.) Trains come every few minutes and it is notorious for crowding in the morning rush hour and after midnight, when frantic drunkards scramble to pack themselves in to be shuttled to a major terminus along the loop for their final train out to the suburbs.

In short, the JR Yamanote Line is an icon. And now you can get married on it.

jr yamanote line wedding tokyo train

Yes, JR East Japan is currently looking for newly weds who want to hold their marriage ceremony inside a train carriage on the Yamanote Line. (Most newly weds actually do the legal side of things at their local government office sometimes months in advance of any “ceremony” or “party”.)

Only one couple can get the chance — and you have until July 9th to apply!

The ceremony will then be held on October 14th, which is actually “Railway Day” — and also fits with the custom of getting married in the clement autumn season. There is no cost to the ceremony; JR no doubt reckon they will get more than enough publicity out of the campaign to justify a few free bottles of bubbly.

It is all part of the fiftieth anniversary of the Yamanote Line, which famously features only trains with green carriages.

jr yamanote line wedding tokyo train

The happy couple will ride the train for around one hour, completing one loop, though details will be finalized in consultation with the wishes of the bride and groom.

However, you must agree to having the media be present to film you (I guess you wouldn’t then need to hire an official wedding photographer) and also then hold a dinner reception (hiroen) at the Hotel Metropolitan Ikebukuro, for which you foot the bill yourselves.

Okay gents! If you’re a train geek, you’ve got a couple of weeks left to find a lady, propose and then apply for the wedding.

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The (dis)courtesy of commuters and priority seats

Written by: Mina on April 25, 2013 at 10:02 pm | In LIFESTYLE | No Comments

It’s a common perception among foreigners that the Japanese are polite and respectful. They say that the Japanese show, if not innately have, good manners in public and seem to act orderly even under the most chaotic circumstances. While these comments sound like a great compliment, showing how disciplined and trained the Japanese are, sometimes I see ironic signs in public which make me wonder what “real” politeness entails.

I’ve been commuting in Tokyo since I was fifteen. An-hour-and-a-half commute to school wasn’t really a hassle for me partly because I was young enough to be able to switch my mental modes quickly from being in a daze to insanity while crushed on a deadly crowded train, and back to the my-brain-is-still-not-working mode. At least I knew there would always be something to look forward to at my destination. As cliched as it might sound, high school indeed was one of the best times of my life (though I should probably mention that I went to four different high schools, and I’m referring to only ONE of them here).

Now that I’m grown up, every morning I have to force myself to get on a train and ensure the same craziness that I somehow almost effortlessly managed to maneuver back when I was still a teenager.
The only “politeness” I can see here is people standing in line before getting on the train. Respect for others? Forget about it.

Another example is a sign of courtesy (or priority) seats.

tokyo_metro_train_priority_seats
Source: Tokyo Metro

Some people might think that the sign is intended for the younger generation who, supposedly don’t even know the meaning of the word “courtesy” yet. However, what I have seen in my years of commuting life is the opposite of this assumption. When a space opens, the first group to start up a competition is often middle-aged, tired-looking salarymen.

If one’s fatigue could be accurately measured on the basis of facial expressions or simple gestures, I would not make a single complaint about who should take open seats on trains. I would be more than happy to give my seat to whoever gets on the train in business suits. Salarymen indeed are the most tired-looking people you encounter on trains.

courtesy_seats_train
Source: Bureau of Transportation, Tokyo Metropolitan Government

But do we really need to see that reminder or hear the automated announcement on the use of courtesy seats every time we get on a train? In fact, because of its sign and different color they chose for courtesy seats, now even the tiniest thought of occupying one of the seats makes me feel guilty. And if someone ever has to feel guilty to be courteous, then her act only comes from the fear and shame of not being courteous enough.

Does this even make sense?

Yokohama once removed all signs on its subway trains in an attempt to promote the message of “all seats designated for courtesy manners”. However, the great majority of elderly people answered when asked if they had been offered seats on trains after the change that the effect of the new policy was almost marginal. Now the signs are back, once again to remind all passengers to avoid the designated area if they want to secure their seats.

In contrast, New York City Transit made the act of refusing to offer a seat (on request) punishable by up to a $50 fine. While we definitely have to consider both sides of the story, my 84-year-old grandma would probably choose to receive that $50 instead of getting a seat on a train. (She once told me not to treat her like an elder — go grandma!)

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Tokyo Metro subway new 2013 manners posters go romantic for April

Written by: William on April 3, 2013 at 7:46 pm | In LIFESTYLE | 2 Comments

In case you didn’t notice, it’s April and with the “cruellest month” comes a change in the fiscal year. Hence lots of emails from people announcing they are changing jobs or departments at work.

And Tokyo Metro starts a new series of posters advising its passengers to ride the subway in a courteous way.

tokyo subway metro manners poster 2012

Last year’s series was slightly ageist (of course, the only people who do bad things on trains are youngsters!) but popular, mainly for its incongruous monkey character. We feel that if you actually brought a small black monkey (no matter how cute!) onto a crowded Tokyo subway train, that might constitute a serious breach of etiquette — much more than cutting in line or answering the phone.

Anyway, the new financial year’s posters are off to a romantic start.

We can understand the pink theme in this April poster (it’s cherry blossom season, though the rain would have us believe otherwise), but the “heart” is surely a bit too much of a metaphorical jump.

tokyo subway metro manners poster april 2013

The slogan is, literally, “manners are heart”, and I guess it means that courtesy is about being “full of heart”. It works in some ways — and certainly in Japanese, where kokoro (heart) can also mean soul or spirit — but the first things surely most people will think is that it’s a very tardy advertisement for a Valentine’s Day subway train campaign.

You can peruse previous year’s posters, one per calendar month, as well as check on the progress of 2013′s, over on the Metro Manner Poster website.

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